Decision Vision Episode 113: Should I Disclose My Mental Illness? – An Interview with Jacqui Chew, iFusion and TEDxAtlanta
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2005, Jacqui Chew seeks to normalize the conversation around mental illness. In a candid and open conversation with host Mike Blake, Jacqui discussed the journey to her diagnosis and how she’s learned to manage it. She also offered advice to HR directors and the rest of us who are approached by an employee or friend who discloses their mental illness. “Decision Vision” is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Jacqui Chew, iFusion and TEDxAtlanta
Jacqui Chew is an award-winning marketing and business executive with more than two decades of experience delivering creative, data-driven strategies for venture-backed, high-growth companies. A proven positioning expert, brand builder, and innovation thought-leader with P/L experience, her programs contribute to MQL growth.
A creative problem solver and convener, Jacqui believes in the potential for ideas to change the world. As licensee of TEDxAtlanta, one of the largest TED affiliates in the region, she galvanizes a team of volunteers to produce the annual TEDxAtlanta show. Under her leadership, tickets for nine of the 11 sold out weeks before. This must-attend event has become the platform for tomorrow’s leaders playing host to renowned bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe, hunger eradication entrepreneur Jasmine Crowe, and Ryan Gravel, the “father” of the Atlanta Beltline.
Jacqui served as senior vice president of marketing at Avertium, an award-winning cybersecurity firm founded from a three-company roll-up. She led brand marketing, demand generation, social media, PR, sales enablement, analytics, marketing operations, and communications. During her tenure, Jacqui spearheaded the company’s successful repositioning, messaging and rebranding and, its CRM/marketing automation platform integration. She also worked cross-functionally to support the acquisition of a fourth company during this period.
Previously, as CMO-in-residence at the Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech (ATDC), a globally ranked business incubator, she worked with the 170+ companies to develop their go-to-market and product strategy. During her tenure, she also developed and taught the incubator’s first strategic marketing curriculum.
Prior to ATDC, Jacqui founded iFusion, a fractional CMO consultancy for high-growth venture-backed companies. Primary client projects: positioning, messaging, customer journey mapping, marketing plan development and marketing and sales alignment. The company led the launch of more than two dozen companies/products and contributed to $100+m in funds raised.
Jacqui served in executive marketing roles at PeopleSoft (acq by Oracle), Stonesoft (acq by McAfee now Intel), Silverpop(acq by IBM) and worked, on the agency side, with IBM Global Services, The Weather Channel, KontrolFreek, MessageGears, Preparis, Venture Atlanta, EarthLink and eBay.
Mike Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is the host of the “Decision Vision” podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms, and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth-minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
“Decision Vision” is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision-maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the “Decision Vision” podcast.
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Intro: [00:00:02] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions. Brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Mike Blake: [00:00:21] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Mike Blake: [00:00:40] My name is Mike Blake and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a Director at Brady Ware & Company, a full service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast, which is being recorded in Atlanta per social distancing protocols. If you would like to engage with me on social media with my Chart of the Day and other content, I’m on LinkedIn as myself, and @unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator, and please consider leaving a review of the podcast as well.
Mike Blake: [00:01:15] Today’s topic is, Should I be open about my mental illness? One in five U.S. adults report that they suffer with some sort of mental illness, and an estimated two-and-a-half percent of U.S. adults experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lifetimes, 7.1. percent of U.S. adults are characterized as having major depression. And these are numbers that go back to 2019. And in case you haven’t heard, most of us had kind of a rough year in 2020. We had a combination of a once in a century global pandemic. We had unprecedented, massive social upheaval. And in some places in the country, we had murder hornets.
Mike Blake: [00:01:59] And, you know, for a lot of us, it’s been a rough ride, a lot rougher than usual. And most of us, I’m sure, have heard, many have read, and seen many stories of the mental toll that the pandemic has taken on many of us, ranging from job loss to being cooped up at home, to having to take on home roles that we were not prepared for. For example, I am the world’s lousiest Spanish teacher for home schooling our son, which is not necessarily our plan. We can only hope we can order a Taco Bell because I think that’s the only thing I’m qualifying him to do. But his ten, he might grow out of it.
Mike Blake: [00:02:39] And, you know, you think about mental illness, and I’m hoping that kind of one good thing that comes out of the pandemic is, I hope it makes us more aware of mental illness and it kind of give it its due. You know, years ago, I served on the board of a nonprofit called Care and Counseling Center of Georgia, whose mission was to provide mental health care services to low income folks. And they did a really good job of it in spite of my being on the board.
Mike Blake: [00:03:13] But one of the things you learn about mental health and mental – you will actually learn about two things. Number one is, your mental health is still sort of taken a backseat to so-called physical health. And, you know, you grow up and you talk about people who are either tough or they’re not tough. And some people of faith will claim that that makes them impervious to any kind of mental illness and so forth. Even to the point where, you know, it wasn’t that long ago, I think a lot of people thought that mental illness was a choice.
Mike Blake: [00:03:51] And secondly, I think people are understanding now that not only does it need to be destigmatize, but the thing on mental health is that if you don’t have mental health, a lot of bad downstream things happen. They can happen at the micro level where it impacts your job, it impacts your personal relationships, it impacts your ability to be a fully engaged, fully actualized member of society, fully actualized person. And in very extreme cases, particularly the United States where gun ownership is plentiful, mental illness that is either undiagnosed, untreated, unmonitored, simply not paying enough attention to, can have, frankly, catastrophic results.
Mike Blake: [00:04:38] And I can’t help but wonder how different might our world be if we gave, frankly, mental illnesses its due. And I think now as we are entering this this trans-pandemic phase where, you know, many of us are becoming vaccinated and we’re starting to kind of wrestle with returning to work, we’re wrestling with returning to restaurants, going back to baseball games, and so forth. And, you know, the mental health issues aren’t going away. In fact, you could argue that there are more mental health issues that are going to be created by sending people back to the office.
Mike Blake: [00:05:18] And I think and I hope that one thing is abundantly clear that, you know, mental health simply cannot be ignored anymore. It’s not the moral thing to do. And I would argue it’s not the business correct thing to do. Because if you have even a small business of 25 people, statistically speaking, five of those people are really struggling with a diagnosable disorder. And one of them probably has something akin to bipolar disorder. And they’ve just done a very good job of hiding it or we’ve done a very good job of not seeing it.
Mike Blake: [00:05:57] And so, therefore, I wanted to cover this topic. It’s not an easy topic. I’m certainly not a physician, but I think it’s so important. I think we have to equip ourselves. Statistically speaking, again, there are thousands of listeners listening to this that are struggling with this question. And then, for people like me, who at least I don’t believe that I have a diagnosable mental illness, others may disagree, but I don’t believe that I do.
Mike Blake: [00:06:22] But I do want to make sure that every resource is available in my network and my company – of which I’m a shareholder – that if there are folks – again, statistically speaking, there are a number of people – that are struggling with mental illness of some kind that we, as a company, do the right thing. That we are compassionate, that we are accommodating, and that we stand up for them, and we don’t abandon them. We don’t try to force them into the shadows. And so, I hope that that thesis makes sense to use as we kind of go through, I think, what is a very challenging and necessary topic.
Mike Blake: [00:07:01] And joining us today to help us talk about this is Jacqui Chew. Jacqui works at the intersection of storytelling, innovation, and business. And I’ve known her for a long time. In fact, I took over her office once. She deploys the power of narrative design and reframing an organization’s brand story for resonance and to inspire action. Described as the Lara Croft of problem solving, Jacqui is a seasoned business operator with a passion for building inclusive teams and working cross-functionally to bring disparate groups together towards a common goal.
Mike Blake: [00:07:33] As the curator and licensee of TEDxAtlanta, Jacqui is always on the lookout for change makers and innovations that are solving for the challenges of today and those just around the corner. Under her leadership, first of TEDxPeachtree from 2009 to 2018 and presently of TEDxAtlanta, Atlanta has grown in recognition within the global TEDx community as an innovation hub for technology, health care, and social impact initiatives. And I’m a big fan of TEDx. I watch three to four TEDx videos a week. And I’ve watched Jacqui’s video as well, we’ll refer to that in our conversation. Jacqui is resourceful, tenacious, and well-networked in the Atlanta business, social impact, and technology communities. Jacqui Chew, welcome to the program.
Jacqui Chew: [00:08:16] Thank you for having me, Mike.
Mike Blake: [00:08:21] So, Jacqui, I brought you on because you’ve chosen to hold yourself out there as a person that has bipolar disorder and has figured out how to navigate life with that particular disorder. So, you know, I’ve read about bipolar disorder. Thank God I don’t have it. I don’t have a family member that has it. I have a couple of friends that have. But explain to the audience in your kind of best terms, how would you describe bipolar disorder to somebody?
Jacqui Chew: [00:08:54] So, first of all, I would call it a mood disorder, because the symptoms manifests itself in extremes in mood changes. And this isn’t to be confused with a person who is “moody.” But mood changes from the standpoint of severe depression to the point where you would lose interest in what you normally enjoy. Or you have a really severe depressive episode would be if you are unable to sleep and you find yourself crying uncontrollably at absolutely nothing, severe fatigue. So, these are severe manifestations of depression. So, there’s that aspect of it.
Jacqui Chew: [00:09:50] At the worst in terms of depression, the worst manifestation of a symptom on the depression side is suicide, thoughts of self-harm and, in some cases, self-harm. So, that’s that part of it. The other side of the equation or the other end of the pendulum is mania and manic episode. So, mania is generally characterized as severe anger to the point of violence. So, for instance, this individual that I know from our support group sessions, when he is in mania, he specifically does not drive. He actually specifically has stopped driving because there are certain types of traffic situations that trigger the symptoms and cause him to act out in violence.
Jacqui Chew: [00:10:59] Other expected symptoms of mania is excessive shopping. You know, maxing out your credit cards. And then, yet another is hypersexuality, which can be really, really hard. Now, I’m not a doctor. These are sort of observations and sharings over the years since – gosh – I’ve been going to support group sessions and since 2005. So, over the years, these are some of the experiences that my fellow attendees have shared with the group. And so, these are some of the symptoms. It’s generally two opposite extremes experienced by an individual, and each of those extremes could be experienced by the person for a couple hours, a couple of weeks.
Jacqui Chew: [00:11:59] I’ll give you an example. There was a point in time when I wasn’t diagnosed, which I remember staying up for three days and going through a complete cleaning of my house. Now, I did end up with a very clean condo, but I didn’t realize at the time that I was experiencing mania and that I wasn’t able to sleep. I was hyperactive. There was just a lot of energy. And I was probably a lot blown up. I was testier and quicker to anger than normal. And this went on for a couple weeks, as I recall. Now, looking back after my diagnosis in 2005, I recognized through my therapy sessions that these moments in time or periods in my life that I had dismissed as just me being the eccentric me that I am were actually symptoms. I was experiencing episodes. That was a very long explanation.
Mike Blake: [00:13:13] Well, I think it deserves it. And for the audience listening at home, too, I think bipolar disorder until recently was more commonly known as manic depressive disorder. Correct?
Jacqui Chew: [00:13:26] Yes. Correct.
Mike Blake: [00:13:27] That’s sort of the new or maybe that’s the clinical. I’m not sure why the name change. But if it sounds like manic depressive disorder, the answer is, yeah, because it is. So, you know, I watched your video and you described a time which I guess is 15, 16 years ago when you kind of came to a crisis point effectively where you sought specific medical attention, and I want to come to that.
Mike Blake: [00:13:56] But before I get to that particular moment, I’m curious, before you got to that moment, was there a gradual kind of trail of breadcrumbs, if you will, of increasingly frequent or severe symptoms that led you to that point where, “Man, this is not right. This is not what most human beings have to go through.” Or as is the case with something like schizophrenia, did one day all of a sudden or in a very short period of time, you simply became bipolar. Does it work one of the two ways? Did you have one of those two experiences?
Jacqui Chew: [00:14:34] I can’t speak for, you know, my peers. But I can tell you, for me, I had no idea that anything was wrong with me. That period of time of three days where I stayed up and cleaned my loft, I think that was back in 2004. And I wasn’t diagnosed until towards the end of January of 2005. And the reason why I know this is because – and I talk about this in my TED talk – it was an evening, I was watching Jeopardy, and then I was prompt while I was watching Jeopardy, which is not something that you would normally do. Though, I didn’t think very much of it, actually, which is kind of strange in and of itself now in hindsight.
Jacqui Chew: [00:15:30] And the next day going into work, I found myself, essentially, just staring at a document for a very long time. It didn’t seem like a very long time, but it turned out to be a very long time and then realizing that I wasn’t processing any of the words that I was looking at. And that was when it was like a stroke of panic. It was a surge of panic where I knew something was wrong, I didn’t know what was wrong. So, I called my regular doctor and it was an emergency. I called him and I explained what had happened. I didn’t explain the night before and the crime, but I just explained to him that I really couldn’t understand anything that I was reading.
Jacqui Chew: [00:16:27] He was clearly concerned and he gave me the names of three doctors and phone numbers. Now, that in and of itself was a little strange because I could write numbers and read numbers, but I couldn’t really write the names of the doctors and read it back to myself. I don’t really know how to explain that. So, I had to remember, so I, essentially, just remembered the first name and wrote down the first number, because that’s all that I could process at the time. And so, I was very fortunate.
Jacqui Chew: [00:17:06] Now, I called that particular doctor, that psychiatrist. Now, he couldn’t see me for a-month-and-a-half. I mean, that kind of tells you, 2005, our health care system was just not geared toward helping people with mental health challenges. So, unless, of course, had I said to my doctor that I thought about killing myself, I had thoughts of self-harm, that would have been a whole different ball of wax.
Mike Blake: [00:17:38] Right. You have to move to the front of the line at that point.
Jacqui Chew: [00:17:40] Pretty much. And there’s another story about that. I’ll explain that in a second. So, there wasn’t a slot in time for six weeks. I made the appointment. I wrote down the date. And then, I was very fortunate because a few days later the office called me. The doctor’s office called me and said, “Hey, we have a cancellation. Would you like to come in? Are you available to come in?” And I did. So, that was super fortunate for me because, at that point in time, I was starting to hallucinate. And I knew I was hallucinating because there’s no way that I was hanging off of the rafters on my loft with a noose around my neck. I knew that wasn’t happening. So, I knew I was hallucinating. So, that began my journey until today. That was how it all began.
Mike Blake: [00:18:48] So, when you were first diagnosed, did you feel that you had to hide your condition? Did you feel like you sort of had to tell the whole world? Did it not make an impact if you felt like it’s just like being told I have arthritis? How did you kind of emotionally react to that?
Jacqui Chew: [00:19:12] Well, so you have to remember, this is 2005, before people could talk about these things, before it was normal. I mean, ADHD in your kid was something to be ashamed of, still, at the time. Or people would talk about their kids in [inaudible] like, “Oh, my child has autism.” Just none of this was okay to talk about. And so, I’m thinking about becoming an evangelist or raising awareness. I wasn’t. I had no idea, first of all, what this is all about.
Jacqui Chew: [00:19:56] First of all, I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My original diagnosis was schizophrenia. Which, you know, there are similarities in symptoms. I mean, the fact that I was seeing myself hanging from the rafters and I was hearing voices, that is classic schizophrenia symptoms. So, I was diagnosed that way and I was prescribed medication for that. And along with going into therapy with my psychiatrist, he also recommended that I go to a support group on a regular basis. So, I didn’t know that it was a lifelong condition. That there is no cure. I had no clue. And it was one of those, like, eye for an eye. So, if I take my meds, I do all the things that my doctor wanted me to do, I’m going to be okay. All of this will stop. And I can just move on. So, this is 2005, and I did.
Jacqui Chew: [00:21:15] And then, for the longest time, I just assumed that I was fine. [Inaudible]. Now, we did find out six weeks later or two months later that the schizophrenic diagnosis was incorrect. It was bipolar disorder because my hallucinations receded once I was putting into place some of the sleep hygiene, the official term. Like, taking the television out of your bedroom. By the way, you cannot or should not, no one should be watching television and go to sleep. It’s really bad for you. I can’t tell you the science behind it, it was explained to me, I forget. But it’s really bad.
Jacqui Chew: [00:22:03] And so, just practicing good sleep hygiene, getting eight hours of sleep, ensuring that it’s deep REM restful sleep. Those were the measures that I took. When I went back to my sixth week visit, it was hallucinations that got away. Some of the other symptoms still persisted. And he was able to give me a correct diagnosis of bipolar disorder and then we went from there. So, I was in no way thinking about telling people. It was more about getting well. How do I get well? How do I ensure that I can cognitively process reading works?
Jacqui Chew: [00:22:55] I’m a knowledge worker. It’s what I do for a living. I’m a writer. I tell stories. I read messaging. I help entrepreneurs with their positioning. And if I’m unable to be on my game from a cognitive function point of view, then I don’t have a way to be self-sufficient. It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You first have to take care of your bare essentials. And because I was living on my own, my family is still 10,000 miles away. I essentially was my own person, my own provider, and I had to take care of myself. So, that was the sole focus.
Jacqui Chew: [00:23:46] I have to tell you that this erroneous notion that bipolar can be cured. And after a period of time, I can just go back to doing all the things that I used to do. You know, that’s not even good for me, was a really bad thing and catastrophic because I had a relapse and a really severe episode of 15 months starting February-ish of 2008. And I didn’t come out of it until July, August of 2009.
Mike Blake: [00:24:20] And, you know, that’s something I think is very underappreciated, maybe unappreciated, about mental illness. I’m not a doctor either, but I’m not aware of any mental illness that is considered curable. I’ve never heard a psychiatrist say, “I cured somebody of X or Y.” Right now with the current state of the art science, it’s all about treatment and management. Right? Again, unless there’s a radical shift in technology, it ain’t going away. And if you’re afflicted in some way like that, then it’s just going to be your companion.
Jacqui Chew: [00:25:01] Right. Well, you know, it’s amazing. We know we have gone so far or come so far in terms of technological advancements. Advancements in all kinds of areas. But scientists are still somewhat mystified by the brain and how it works. They do know that it’s a chemical imbalance. It is truly a chemical imbalance. They’re not entirely sure what causes it altogether. They know that some types of bipolar disorder, and there are four types. Some types are triggered by damage to the hippocampus part of the brain. Some of it has to do with the neurotransmitters not firing the right way. So, there’s not a lot of clarity.
Jacqui Chew: [00:26:10] And then, of course, there’s environmental factors as well. There are theories that it’s genetic – actually, it’s not a theory. They’ve done experiments with twins and they’ve seen that mood disorders, there’s a genetic underpinning to mood disorders. And environmental factors like stress or death in family or substance abuse, those factors could trigger symptoms.
Mike Blake: [00:26:50] So, yes. I want to kind of seize on that a little bit, grab a hold of that for a little bit, because you mentioned in your video that you had to implement a certain rule. Because there’s one certain work trigger that you highlighted. So, I was wondering if you could talk about that and has it worked?
Jacqui Chew: [00:27:10] You are referring, like, to the no asshole rule.
Mike Blake: [00:27:15] I am indeed. Thanks for coming on the podcast anyway. I hope you’re alright.
Jacqui Chew: [00:27:23] You know, I think so. So, in mood disorders, like for me, there are stressors and there are triggers. So, stressors are conditions that kind of exacerbate that gives me a heightened sense of stress – hence, stressors – which then triggers a certain emotion. Triggers are, literally like for me – I can’t speak for the rest of my peers here – there are certain behavior, certain personality types, and, sometimes, in some cases certain phrases that trigger me to anger, to behave in a certain way that I have no control over. And they also trigger such an overwhelming sense of doubt and fear and shame, even, that I have no control over. It’s completely irrational and I have no control over it.
Jacqui Chew: [00:28:38] And so, the no asshole rule has everything to do with a certain kind of personality that, unfortunately, is quite persistent in the technology, I dare say, in this –
Mike Blake: [00:28:54] There’s no shortage of assholes. Yeah. Yeah.
Jacqui Chew: [00:28:59] Yes.
Mike Blake: [00:28:59] And we make more.
Jacqui Chew: [00:29:01] So, when I say asshole, what I mean is there are certain traits. Like, people who always demand more and they move the goalpost. I think we’ve all experienced coworkers or managers like that, who they demand without ever providing positive reinforcement. And when a certain goal had been attained, instead of taking a moment to acknowledge or appreciate, they move the goalpost just a little bit further. And for me, that sort of personality is a trigger for me. And so, I’ve tried very, very hard to steer away from working with people like that. And in many cases, I’ve had to develop coping mechanisms. So, you hear that a lot if you come to my group support sessions. We talk about coping mechanisms.
Mike Blake: [00:30:25] I’m sure you do.
Jacqui Chew: [00:30:26] And just techniques to moderate the impact of certain kinds of behavior that trigger us. Because in many cases, in the workplace, you can’t always remove yourself from personalities like that. You just have to find ways of reducing and minimizing the exposure to personalities like that.
Mike Blake: [00:30:53] So, I’d like to talk about that because I think that’s a very important subject and starts to intersect with the business part of it, if you will. And what I’d like to ask about that, first of all is this, is that, given that you know these things about yourself, do you entirely take it upon yourself to minimize your exposure to these triggers? Or do you kind of try to work with the people that you’re involved with and say, “Hey, look. You know, I sort of have this thing going on and these four things are really not good. And I’d like to try to avoid those in this environment as much.” can you have conversations like that? Am I just sort of off the reservation?
Jacqui Chew: [00:31:45] If I care enough about the person and respect the person enough, quite honestly, Mike, I’ll take the trouble to do that. Because honestly – let me give you an analogy and perhaps this would become clear. If someone is being abusive or discriminatory toward me, it is not my responsibility to tell them that they are and to teach them some other way. I don’t think it’s my responsibility. And I don’t want to carry that burden. That’s me personally. I know other people would.
Jacqui Chew: [00:32:25] However, if I care and I respect the person enough, and want to continue to have a relationship with that person, an ongoing sustainable relationship with that person, then I would because I want a sustainable ongoing relationship. Then, the amount of investment that I would have to make that the outcome warrants the investment. Because it’s a big investment. It is very difficult. So, first of all, that person has to have some semblance of empathy.
Mike Blake: [00:33:04] Yeah. That it’s a nonstarter, right?
Jacqui Chew: [00:33:08] Correct. One of the primary reasons why assholes are assholes, Mike, is because they lack empathy and self-awareness. And I, in my years, have come to the conclusion that some people just can’t help themselves. And who am I to help them stop being an asshole? So, I’m just going to work with them as best as the situation calls for it to get the job done, to accomplish the goal, and move on. That’s how I feel. That’s my coping mechanism. It would take too much energy for me to manage my disorder and try to change these people.
Jacqui Chew: [00:34:00] The situation is quite different if a person is exhibiting these behavior traits, these less desirable behavior traits, but has some semblance of empathy. They just don’t know it. They don’t know what they’re doing. But if they did, if I thought that if they did know what they were doing, and it’s the impact of their behavior on others that they would consider a different way. If I detected that and I wanted a sustainable relationship with these people, I would make the investment.
Jacqui Chew: [00:34:39] And yes, I would absolutely say, “Look -” and I would train it to the standpoint of I have a mood disorder. And that, too, is a very self-centric thing and that’s just not my style. I would make the standpoint of, “Look, when you say these kinds of things in this sort of a situation, you may not mean it this way.” But let me tell you how it’s being perceived. And if this is not the way you want it to be perceived, then let’s find a better way of articulating your thoughts. And that’s how I do it.
Mike Blake: [00:35:20] So, beyond this particular approach, which is a very sort of – let’s call it – individualized or even a non-scalable approach, because that’s been focused to one person at a time. And I think that’s part of where the ROI equation comes in that you’re describing. Are there other things that you need to do to kind of protect yourself? For example, I would imagine because you said that a good sleep schedule is essential to managing your condition. To me, that says it would be very difficult for you to be in a culture that thrives on the all-nighter. It sounds like that’s something that could be not only suboptimal, but potentially even dangerous for you.
Jacqui Chew: [00:36:05] Yes. And, actually, when I violate my no asshole rule and I allow myself to be consumed by let’s work an all-nighter type of culture is when I get into trouble. I literally get myself very sick. And so, yes, there’s a measure of protection that I have to put around my boundaries. So, this is where boundaries come in. And people without the bipolar disorder have boundaries.
Jacqui Chew: [00:36:41] Now, what is really interesting, I think, in my situation that I think is worth noting for your listeners who may find themselves in a similar situation is, I am naturally a high performance, hard charging individual. That is my nature.
Mike Blake: [00:37:04] Yeah. I’ve seen it.
Jacqui Chew: [00:37:04] Unfortunately, my nature is hurtful to my condition. So, I have to fight my default and learn a new default. And so, what I’ve done is learning a new default – perhaps, old dogs can’t learn new tricks, as the saying goes. Learning a new default has proven to be too difficult. So, what I’ve done is I’ve created extensions to the default. So, it’s like home improvement. I’ve added extensions and caveats to the default where, yes, when it is absolutely necessary, I will work the 80 hour week. But I will not work the 80 hour week, I would work for a week, maybe two, at most. And then, I have to go back to a 40, 50 hour week, which is a normal week for me. Or I take a mental health game – you hear people say that all the time – where you take a Friday and you just switch it up.
Jacqui Chew: [00:38:18] Now, I have learned as a coping mechanism to turn off my phone and go off grid one day out of every weekend. You have Saturday, you have Sunday, so I either pick a Saturday or Sunday – usually it’s a Sunday – where I completely go off grid and I do not check phone, emails, nothing. So, it’s kind of like an electronic detox or digital detox.
Mike Blake: [00:38:51] Well, you know, I mean, a lot of the things you’re describing sound like they’re probably pretty useful for people that aren’t fighting bipolar disorder, frankly. I can tell you something, I’ve started to become very mindful of my own sleep schedule, because when you can operate in short sleep, it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it allows you to to do more. But for me, Parkinson’s Law just takes over. And all it does, it allows me to outwork my mistakes. And that’s not really an optimal place to be anyway. So, you know, the way you described these sort of parameters in a way that I think are consistent with kind of best practices for mental maintenance anyway.
Jacqui Chew: [00:39:39] Indeed. So, many of the measures that I’ve taken, anyone and everyone, really, should take regardless of what sort of a workspace they’re on, it really doesn’t matter. And so, I’ll be very specific. If you have a television in your bedroom, remove it. This is probably the hardest one for most people, because a lot of people I know have televisions in their bedrooms. It’s terrible. Eight hours of sleep? Now, some people need eight. I need six hours of sleep. Six good hours of sleep is sufficient for me. It’s the quality sleep more than the quantity of sleep.
Jacqui Chew: [00:40:31] So, for me to process problems, I need to be doing something else. So, this is the other thing about corporate America is, it’s not always forgiving about extracurricular activities. There are some cultures that they don’t condone a person, an employee, having nonprofit work or volunteer work or anything like that, when they want you and all of you and all of your time.
Jacqui Chew: [00:41:06] So, I stay away from cultures like that because that is not how I operate ultimately. My optimal goal is the ability to problem solve at work, but I’m on problem solving whilst I’m doing other things, other activities that are not work related, like organizing TEDxAtlanta. That actually is invigorating. It’s a very renewing process of organizing that endeavor. And it helps me process the other kind of work problems that I have, the revenue generating problems that I have that I’m helping to overcome and add value to. That is my mode.
Jacqui Chew: [00:41:47] So, I think people have to find what works for them. I’m describing what actually works for me in this instance. The whole sleep hygiene thing, absolutely, that works for everybody. That applies to everybody. The hours, that’s individualized. Everyone has a sweet spot. And then, finally – gosh – a lot of what happens that may not be obvious is that people with bipolar disorder, when there is an episode and there’s a true multi-week, multi-month episode of depression, what it does is, it also completely obliterates your self-confidence. And one of the ways to rebuild self-confidence is to do volunteer work.
Jacqui Chew: [00:42:43] So, when I experienced the very long episode from February 2008 to 2009, July, August, was the way I slowly came back to the world, so to speak, was beyond the talk therapy, beyond the medication, beyond the group support sessions every two weeks, every month. I also began to volunteer at, actually, St. Vincent de Paul in this case, where something as simple as stocking shelves at the food bank. So, rebuilding a sense of confidence is really, really important in the recovery process as well. And engaging in activities that reinforce your sense of self when you’re not in an episode, when things are being managed, when your condition is being managed is also very important.
Mike Blake: [00:43:58] So, one question I want to make sure to get to is – and I’m curious about this for myself, because as a manager, as a leader, I may encounter this – if somebody that were in my charge were to approach me and sort of close the door and just say, “Hey, look. I’ve got this issue. I’ve got this issue of bipolar disorder. And I just want to let you know about it, because some things you may not expect to happen, might happen. Or I may have specific needs, I need help manage it.” What’s the best way for me to react to that? Should I react to it? Do I hit them off to H.R.? I mean, how can I engage constructively in that conversation?
Jacqui Chew: [00:44:50] Well, that’s a tough one, Mike, because you’re now wandering into labor laws and H.R., all of that. That’s the difference. So, I’ll tell you how I react in the past to team members who come to me whose work performance had visibly, obviously fallen off. And I’ve had this composition, I initiated a conversation. And then, they told me that there has been a series of deaths in the family and they were just not feeling well. It’s months apart. So, first of all, regardless of what your H.R. policy is about this, I think it’s important to just listen. Sometimes the best action is no action. And sometimes the person may just want to be heard.
Jacqui Chew: [00:45:50] People have to consider that. I mean, there may not be an action necessarily. The person, they just want to be heard. Because it’s very lonely when you’re experiencing symptoms. You feel like you’re the only one in the world feeling it when it’s not true. But your brain is telling you that you’re the only one. So, just being an ear and not committing to anything, not saying anything, and just understanding and showing kindness and empathy, that sometimes can be enough.
Mike Blake: [00:46:34] I really like that. And, you know, it reminds me actually of a quote from Art of War that suggests that one of the hardest things to do but the best thing to do is simply nothing. I’m paraphrasing. It’s really, one of the hardest things to do in battle is wait. But, you know, it translates very well there that sometimes the best thing to do is just nothing. And for somebody like me who prefers to be proactive and, frankly, would like to help, if somebody comes to me with something like that, my first instinct is how can I help? Even though I am patently unqualified to help somebody. I don’t have that condition. I’ll have medical training. You know, I read what I read on the Internet, half of which is probably wrong. But I think that’s a really good piece of advice. I really do. And it’s surprisingly hard.
Jacqui Chew: [00:47:32] Yes, it is. So, being heard is often times the best answer for the person across the table who is sharing something that is very difficult for them to share. Making sure that they feel heard is possibly the best gift that you can give them as manager. Now, I think, though, the situation would be different if you are sensing that they could possibly hurt themselves. It could be in that state. You never know. So, first of all, you never know. But if you even have a glimmer of that, then it’s time to have a conversation with your H.R. to better understand all the different angles.
Mike Blake: [00:48:32] We’re talking with Jacqui Chew, and the topic is, Should I be open about my mental illness? And that conversation is adjacent to something that I started a conversation in our company, about, three years ago – not long after I joined, actually. And this is in the wake of the Ohio State scandal where one coach was abusing his wife, and other coaches knew, and apparently didn’t do anything. Certainly, not enough to kind of intervene in that. And the question I ask and still ask – because there’s really no great answer – is, as an employer, as a leader, if I hear something like that in my firm, what are my obligations, both ethical and legal? What are my constraints, both ethical and legal? And I think what you just described is actually quite adjacent to that.
Mike Blake: [00:49:32] So, we need to wrap up here. We could do this for a lot longer, but we have limited time. I want to be respectful of the rest of your day. But I am curious about about one thing, you know, in the 15, 16 years that you’ve struggled with this and have become an advocate for awareness, do you think that as a society we’ve gotten better at acknowledging the importance, severity, and impact of mental illness?
Jacqui Chew: [00:50:03] Unequivocally, yes. And it’s been accelerated by the onset of COVID. Ironically, COVID has affected such a large swath of the population in terms of the social distancing and isolation having such a profound impact on a person’s psyche and for many people. That it has given those of us who were diagnosed before, who have diagnosed condition, it’s given us a broader audience. There’s more empathy. There’s less likelihood of the other person, saying, “Oh, it’s all in your head.”
Mike Blake: [00:50:51] Right. It’s a stupid thing to say.
Jacqui Chew: [00:50:57] Well, people say it.
Mike Blake: [00:50:59] There’s no shortage of stupid things for people to say. But go on.
Jacqui Chew: [00:50:59] There you go. Or this notion that, if you take a pill, if you take a series of pills, and you go to your doctor, you’ll be fine. Because the pandemic has affected so many people in so many different ways that there’s a really good chance if you talk to your neighbors, they know someone in their family or they know someone in their second ring of peers or friends and associates who’ve been affected by the pandemic from a mental health point of view.
Jacqui Chew: [00:51:37] So, my point is, mental health issues are more prevalent as a result of the pandemic. And, therefore, the conversation around it is just more mainstream. COVID has mainstreamed mental health, and the challenges, and the symptoms, and the problems. And there’s a distinct level volume of conversation that’s happening on social media, on Clubhouse, and on Twitter.
Jacqui Chew: [00:52:14] I mean, even at Ted, I spent my lunch time listening and watching a whole panel of iconic TED speakers as part of this thing that Ted puts together. And Monica Lewinsky was there. She’s a huge advocate for mental health and normalizing the conversation around mental health. She shares my vision and my wish that – gosh – I wish that it could be a dinner table conversation, just like diabetes. Like, talking about how’s your dad’s diabetes coming along? How’s he managing it? Is he exercising? I wish we could talk about how’s your brother’s mood disorder coming along? Is he getting his weekly needs? I mean, I would love to see that happen. And I think we are closer. We’re not there, but we’re closer because of the pandemic.
Mike Blake: [00:53:10] I think that’s a great place to put a pin in this and wrap it up. And maybe we’ll do a part two at some point. I only got through about half the questions, but that’s fine. How can people contact you for more information about this, maybe just to share their journey or get your advice?
Jacqui Chew: [00:53:28] Sure. So, I’m active on Facebook. It’s just Jacqui Chew. I’m also active on LinkedIn, also Jacqui Chew. And I have a website, jacquichew.com.
Mike Blake: [00:53:39] Yeah. As you can tell, Jacqui is not an introvert. She is not hard to find. And that’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I like to thank Jacqui so much for joining us and sharing her expertise with us. And on a side note, frankly, just for having the courage to be this advocate, I am confident that it has helped a lot of people over the way. And I’m equally confident is going to help at least a few listeners to this program.
Mike Blake: [00:54:05] We’ll be exploring a new topic each week, so please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next business decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy these podcasts, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us that we can help them. If you like to engage with me on social media, with my Chart of the Day and other content, I’m on LinkedIn as myself and @unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision podcast.